Masters of Pie Fulfills a Growing Need for Immersive Collaboration
As its website proclaims, new AREA member offers “the only industry-ready solution that provides heavy-duty immersive collaboration with end-to-end encrypted sharing of real-time data, across all devices, for all the team.” We spoke recently with the London-based company’s co-founder and CEO Karl Maddix to learn more.
AREA: Tell us how Masters of Pie got started.
KARL MADDIX: Matthew Ratcliffe and I founded Masters of Pie in 2011. We both have backgrounds in 3D real-time technologies. Matt was working in real time visualization for architecture, whereas I was doing animation and character art for games and short films. We met in 2009 at a London agency that had a contract for what was a very early digital twin prototype project for a water treatment plant. Matt and I made basically a digital twin of the physical site using laserscan data which was plumbed into streamed sensor data from the plant itself that would then be able to be seen and interacted with. It was really ahead of its time and we pioneered a lot of the processes and techniques to make it viable for industry.
Masters of Pie was spawned from that project. The concept was simply to apply our expertise in the real-time world to the enterprise. We started as a service provider, doing R&D using game engine technology for interactive applications, prototypes, and products. We did things like making interactive CAD portfolios for engineering companies who have big industrial presses that they wanted to interact with. We were also careful not to just build shallow self-contained apps; we always tried to drive them with actual industry data. We were learning how to make “play nice” with real time engines. Masters of Pie did some early showcases for Siemens around interactive data sets and this introduced us to the engineering world and got us exposure among Siemens end users, such as Volkswagen, Ford, and Rolls Royce. That was when we started to identify the big problems that we wanted to tackle with our own products when we made the switch from service to product.
When the Oculus Rift DK1 appeared on Kickstarter, we immediately saw its value for what we were doing, which was putting big CAD models into 3D real-time engines. Luckily for us, the DK1 arrived a couple of weeks before we were due to go to Germany to meet with Siemens about a mobile-based project. So, just a few weeks after the DK1 was released worldwide, we were in Siemens offices showing them something impressive with it, something they had never seen before. That was a pivotal moment when we saw the excitement generated from that meeting.
With access to their customers like Volkswagen, we were able to test out ideas for our own product. Before, I’d been able to show them a full-sized car, but it was apparent they had no way of getting their data into that application without a great deal of pain. The VR element was nice and all, but it was the complexity of this data which was stuck in silos that was the real issue. We explored that concept. How does data get from where it is created in a CAD package or in a Product Lifecycle Management system so it can be shared across different teams, efficiently and quickly, while it is still live data and not outdated by two weeks because it was sent offshore to be refractured or reformatted in some way? We wanted to enable the sharing of actual live or real time data among disparate teams.
That is the core problem statement that Masters of Pie decided to tackle. Our approach to address this challenge was to develop a fully extensible and modular software framework called Radical to integrate deep into where the live data resides. The decision to take this direction was made in 2016, when we turned off the tap of our service work and became a software product company. All of our previous profits were ploughed into building the first generation of our “Radical” platform.
AREA: That was a leap of faith.
KARL MADDIX: Yes. We’ve always been like that. Our real motivators are solving big industry problems such as enabling real–time collaboration on large and complex 3D data. Because we also had such great access to industry leaders, such as Rolls Royce, we had very good feedback and indicators that we were on the right track. They told us this was a real problem for them and nobody was even trying to solve it.
AREA: What made you think that an SDK or software framework was the way to productize what you needed to do?
KARL MADDIX: One of the early prototypes we made was based on using the open API from a CAD software package and integrating the Radical software ourselves. The result was like having a Radical button within the host software. When you clicked it, it instantly brought the CAD data into our environment. More importantly, it was still bidirectionally linked to the CAD package and so all the associated metadata was available and enabled powerful functionality such as the ability in VR to complete accurate measurement.
The large manufacturing customers automatically saw the value and wanted to proceed, however would prefer if the software was fully integrated via an established and entrenched technology partner. This feedback was critical in pivoting the business model focus to an indirect sales process versus building out a large direct sales team. Masters of Pie would instead concentrate on the technology as an extensible software framework to license to companies who built the host packages, such as CAD providers, who sell directly to the target end customer. Siemens was the first OEM partner to integrate the software and has been delivering Radical–enabled immersive functionality since 2017 to their installed base.
Masters of Pie software is not just about the CAD/PLM market. Any company offering software that generates really complex data or holds complex 3D data is a potential target customer. We built Radical to be flexible enough to work with multiple data types. We are certainly not building it as just a CAD solution. Radical doesn’t “care” what data type is pushed into it. We are just as happy with other formats such as point clouds, MRI scans or any other complex data. Instead, what we are building is what we call a “collaborative thread framework.” The concept is that we will be the connective tissue between multiple pieces of the ecosystem that are starting to bubble up. People will soon want to work freely across factory floors or in the field using AR, VR or mobile devices – however, this is not enabled by any one group. It will be a complex landscape of offerings. But it all starts with getting the live data.
Masters of Pie secures data access by being integrated to the CAD or PLM packages, but we also want to be integrated to the IIoT platforms, and pull IoT data that you can then surface in our environment, alongside the CAD. We are talking to cloud service providers so we can start looking to connect teams in larger spaces such as factories, and have spatial anchorings support from Microsoft, for example, so you can walk around the factory and know spatially exactly where you are. It’s this concept of, okay, you’ve got 5G coming, you’ve got cloud service providers wanting to stream to multiple devices, viable AR that is going to be coming pretty soon, VR is fairly established. All of these little pieces, we are looking to tie together with our singular platform pushing live data to connected teams. That’s why we call it a collaborative thread.
AREA: You make it sound very easy. But hasn’t it been a big problem to pull data from all these different sources and to do it so quickly? What’s your secret?
KARL MADDIX: I’ll be honest, the easier component of what we do is the technology. We’ve got a very highly skilled team and we are pretty good at what we do. We had a good insight early on, which I think gave us a good head start over the rest of the market. And we’ve got some very established relationships which help with some of these big players. The more difficult part is the business side; for example, securing an OEM agreement, bringing in technology partners, and building strategic partnerships with key industry leaders. We’re talking to people at Microsoft, AWS, Nvidia, Ericsson, Vodafone and we’ve just closed a funding round which included Bosch and Williams Advanced Engineering.
AREA: As we evolve more toward integrating all of these different pieces – Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things – it seems as if you’re in a good spot to be the glue that pulls it all together.
KARL MADDIX: What Matt and I realized was that there is no real clear killer VR or AR application that is going to change the world yet. How do we mitigate our risk given that? The approach of an extensible software framework product does help us. Our customers don’t necessarily need to know what that killer application is yet. All they need to know is that by adopting our platform, they gain the ability to build products quickly, integrate it into their current portfolio, and be ready as and when these use cases appear. We don’t need to worry about what exact AR device our customer is going to be using in five years’ time. All we need to know is that, in order for that to happen, you need a holistic architectural approach, like Radical, to get the data flowing, pulling people together and connecting these moving parts. Industry needs that infrastructure now. Large Industry software providers, such as Siemens, want to be ready for the next generation of products they are going to be putting out whilst upgrading their existing products so that they can stay connected and relevant. That is basically the value Masters of Pie provides to these software providers – the confidence to enable immersive collaborative products today while ensuring the approach will adapt to meet the challenges of tomorrow. We are providing them with the building blocks to prepare for the next wave of products and features, right now with the Radical software framework.
AREA: As the current coronavirus pandemic has made very clear, organizations need tools that help disparate, dispersed teams collaborate. How does Radical support that kind of collaboration?
KARL MADDIX: Yes indeed. Although it is obviously a terrible time for the world right now, it does highlight how unfit for purpose the traditional collaboration infrastructure is within enterprise. Webex and Teams are fine for connecting people in real time but not their data. If there ever was a time to show industry the way forward, then a global pandemic is it, even though I feel very guilty about saying it out loud. I think that once this virus starts to recede and people are going back to work, the first item on the agenda will be how to better prepare for the future should this threat appear again. That for us will be our “golden hour” as there really is not anything else as robust and flexible as Radical out there that can be adopted quickly and used wholesale across disparate software products within a portfolio. Unlike other solutions that may make a lot more noise than we do in the market, we are not vapourware or a shiny proof of concept, we are in-market right now with real product, trusted by industry and delivering value.
AREA: Tell us why you joined the AREA and what you hope to get from your membership?
KARL MADDIX: It is more on the technology side. The drive came from Matt Ratcliffe, our co-founder and Chief Product Officer. What we are looking to do is to get more direct access to end customers. We are striving to get better and more accurate, direct feedback from end users. Matt and the team felt that the AREA would be a good way to get our message out there, to start talking about our vision for the collaborative thread as Masters of Pie, and try to get more insight on whether we are doing the right things from the AREA members.